Senior center designs getting underway

Plans for a long-awaited new senior center that have been in limbo for nearly a decade were dusted off Monday as Huntington Beach council members and city staff discussed ways to move forward and get the project done.

The council awarded contracts to four design firms to look separately at architecture, civil engineering, traffic modeling and construction. It had already set aside $300,000 to fund the contracts.

Sources of funding remained the topic of conversation during the study session; the city expects construction of the facility to cost the city $15 million. Bonds, private donations and corporate help were laid out as possibilities.

Former Huntington Beach Mayor Ralph Bauer, who turned 83 on Tuesday, told council members that he is an avid follower of the issue and thinks this waiting process has gotten out of hand.

"If years go by and I'm no longer able to speak on this, someone will take my place," he said. "It's because the people of Huntington Beach voted for it."

Finance Director Lori Ann Farrell briefed council members on their options for funding the project.

Around $22 million by way of park fees was supposed to come from another project, Pacific City, Farrell said. But that money was not to be seen after the initial developer, Makar Properties, went bankrupt and handed the project off to another developer.

Farrell gave council members the option to purchase a $15 million bond and finance it over 30 years, paying $1.2 million annually.

Mayor Connie Boardman and Councilman Joe Shaw suggested using a portion of the general park fees to reduce the overall cost and avoid having to finance a $15 million bond. Councilwoman Jill Hardy, however, was concerned about using all of the park fees for one project.

"I'm concerned about other park projects, like purchasing closed school sites and undeveloped parks that we still have, like Bartlett Park," Hardy said.

External funding, like donations and grants, is another route the city could take to raise funds.

Boardman said Hoag Hospital had been willing to donate money for the center but legal complications have made donors nervous. The local Parks Legal Defense Fund sued the city over its supplemental environmental impact report and is now in the appeals process.

"It's up to us as leaders and policy makers to use our influence and ask these people, 'Please, stop these appeals, stop wasting the city's money, stop wasting the time and effort we have to put in our legal department and the amount of funds that we have to use,'" Councilman Joe Carchio said.

"The city attorney in the past said that we're free to move ahead, but if the court rules against us, then we'd have to undo all the construction we've done," Boardman said. "I don't think we want to be in that situation."

The site of the proposed 37,563-square-foot senior center is across the street from the Sports Complex Center, at Talbert Avenue and Goldenwest Street. The 14-acre plot could eventually be home to a community hall, fitness and exercise rooms, classrooms and a social lounge among other amenities, according to a presentation given by interim Community Services Director Janeen Laudenback.

A tentative timetable was laid out after the four contracts were approved.

City staff is looking to complete all construction documents by Jan. 15, 2014, followed by a four-month bidding and review period in the search for a developer. The construction contract is set to be awarded May 5, 2014.

Should everything fall into place for the city, construction is expected to take place from June 2014 to December 2015.

"In most of our decisions, we wonder if we're doing the right thing," Councilman Dave Sullivan said. "In this case, we clearly know from elections almost seven years ago when the people approved this center on this site. Let's get going."

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